New CNO's biggest challenge: Balancing excellence with staff vacancies

Yolanda Coleman, PhD, RN, became Chicago-based Weiss Memorial Hospital's chief nursing officer on Oct. 25. She spoke to Becker's in December about staffing challenges and shared her advice for other women in healthcare leadership.

Note: This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: What trends are you noticing at Weiss in regards to the staffing crisis, specifically regarding the departure of nurses?

Dr. Yolanda Coleman: Our trends are probably similar to a lot of other hospitals in the area and across the nation. Our vacancy rates have increased, almost tripled, from what they were pre-COVID. And we have nursing vacancies in areas that we probably wouldn't have seen as many vacancies in [had it not been for COVID-19], and our vacancies go across the specialty board, even into areas like case management, which we didn't see huge vacancies in in the past.

Q: How do you plan to navigate these staffing issues?

YC: Some of what we've been doing quite recently is collaborating with colleges of nursing to tap into our new grad pool. We've also instituted bonuses to try to be competitive with the agency and the travel rates. We're also working with international agencies to bring in nurses from the international arena.

Q: What do you anticipate being your biggest challenges in your new role?

YC: Well, staffing is one of them. And then when you have gaps in staffing, you have a concern with your quality and safety. So you have to ensure that you're maintaining your level of excellent standards with your vacancies that are open.

Q: What advice do you have for other women in healthcare leadership?

YC: I would say you have to be passionate about your leadership role. You should have a desire to be a positive mentor. You should always exhibit a conscious concern for patient care, continually focus on quality and safety, have a commitment and dedication to the profession and also maintain the highest level of competency, and you need to be proactive in an ever-changing and hectic environment.

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